It has been said that a half-truth is a whole lie. But in some cases, a half-truth is worse than an outright lie. It is often a mingling of fact and falsehood that can cloud understanding, create division and sow the seeds of mistrust.
Since the murder-by-cop death of George Floyd in 2020, Americans everywhere have had to grapple with the story of America as it relates to race.
Across the former Confederate states, attention focused on the hundreds of monuments, memorials and statues dedicated to Confederate soldiers and leaders.
By the end of 2020, more than 100 Confederate statues had been removed, some relocated, others stored away as officials consider what to do with them.
In Columbus, the Confederate monument erected on the grounds of the Lowndes County Courthouse was disassembled in May 2021 and is now in storage awaiting to be moved to a site in Friendship Cemetery where the Civil War dead are buried.
The county has spent roughly $80,000 to remove, clean and store the monument and prepare the Friendship Cemetery site. The final total cost to complete the move is expected to exceed $100,000.
Meanwhile, the Confederate monuments in Macon and West Point remain, even though elected officials in both communities have said they believe those monuments should be moved to more appropriate venues. The problem? Funding. For small communities, the $100,000 or so is hard to find in tight budgets and harder still to justify.
But there may be an alternative to the cost of removing those monuments, based on an event Saturday in Oxford.
No Mississippi city has had a bigger, more heated debate over Confederate Monuments than Oxford, which had two such monuments, one located at the main entrance to the University of Mississippi, the other on the grounds of the Lafayette County courthouse on the Oxford Square.
In July 2020, the monument on the Ole Miss campus was relocated to the school’s cemetery, again at a considerable cost.
But calls for the removal of the monument on the Oxford Square went unheeded. Twice, the all-white board of supervisors voted against removing the monument.
On Saturday, a historical marker dedicated to memory of eight Black Lafayette County citizens who were lynched in the county between 1885 and 1935 was unveiled near the site of the Confederate monument on the square. Descendants of the lynching victims were joined with a crowd of about 250 who gathered for the dedication of the marker.
For more than 150 years, the Confederate monument on the Oxford Square told what was, at best, a half-truth, heralding the valor and honoring the sacrifices of Confederate soldiers. As of Saturday, a more complete accounting of the war, its cause and the horrific conditions of both slaves and emancipated slaves through the Jim Crow era now greets visitors.
Coming to terms with our history can be painful, but necessary. History is what happened. Heritage is what we tell ourselves about what happened. For far too long, the South has told an incomplete story, one that is as much myth as fact.
The monuments still standing across the South, including those in West Point and Macon, tell a part of that story, one that should not be forgotten or ignored. But a fuller context is helpful.
There is much to like about the effort to provide that context in Oxford, one that could serve as a model to West Point and Macon. A marker or some other permanent signage explaining the fuller story would be better than simply removing these disturbing edifices from our sight and conscience.
The cost will be minimal, too. We urge leaders in West Point and Macon to consider such an alternative.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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